Tuesday, June 16, 2015

In short: La Mansión de la Niebla (1972)

aka Maniac Mansion

Warning: I’m gonna spoil the obvious

Thanks to particularly thick fog, various people (among them usual suspects Analía Gadé, Alberto Dalbés and Eduardo Fajardo) end up stranded in a lone house right next to a cemetery. This being the sort of film it is, there’s something not at all right with the place: the owner (Evelyn Stewart) tells a mildly disturbing story about a mysterious illness and a dead ancestor who was supposed to be a vampire, with many an added meaningful glance thrown; the house is full of occult pictures; and it seems there’s a big, possibly dead, chauffeur walking around. Things don’t become less disturbing for the guests the longer the night goes on, for there’s bad age make-up, random body parts and the threat of dead-or-not chauffeur-induced violence.

Francesco Lara Polop’s movie about a mansion in the mist is a bit of a throw back to the Old Dark House films of yore, though the mandatory gorilla has been replaced by that zombie chauffeur, and there are some very tame attempts at sexing proceedings up a little but still mostly keeping everyone’s clothes on. Yes, I was disappointed about that last one too. As in the old entries in the genre, the supernatural here will also turn out to be mere part of a rather dubious plan to drive an heiress mad; as is tradition, it’s a plan made rather problematic by needing to have a group of people travelling independently be stranded by fog, which is not what we in the heiress killing business call a sound idea, even in an area where it’s regularly foggy. So, as it goes with these things, the natural explanations for the seemingly supernatural occurrences are actually less plausible than explaining them by ghosts and witches; in fact, trying to think through who does what when here for what reason might lead to a mild headache.

On the other hand, nothing here is so interesting the non-supernatural explanation will actually turn out to be a disappointment, because disappointment generally needs expectations to disappoint. This doesn’t mean the film is without its attractions – there are some decent moments of classic gothic-style shudders, Polop knows his way around filming a moody bank of artificial fog, and Evelyn Stewart does know who to do sinister meaningful stares rather well, whereas the other actors are playing their quite obvious parts with off-handed professionalism and just a small side of cheese. It’s all very pleasant and old-fashioned, and while this certainly isn’t a lost classic of gothic or would-be gothic, and won’t excite anyone overmuch, La Mansion does have enough to offer for a bit of a diverting time if one adjusts her expectations properly.

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